The Transforming NCAA: For Better or Worse

Denver Captures Its Ninth N.C.A.A. Hockey Championship on April 10, 2022

by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer (@MikeMcMahonCHN)

Division I athletics, including college hockey, could look very different in the future, as ramifications continue from the NCAA’s loss in the Alston case in the Supreme Court last year.

According to several sources, college hockey coaches were presented with potential changes forthcoming from the NCAA’s Transformation Committee last month in Naples as part of the annual AHCA Convention. The fallout from this lawsuit will likely result in sweeping changes to all of college athletics, not just college hockey.

“The toothpaste is already out of the tube,” said one coach, echoing the sentiment of pretty much everyone. “It’s changing. It’s a matter of when all of this happens as opposed to if it will happen. There’s no going back.”

Essentially, the NCAA has lost almost every case it’s ever had to defend in court regarding its amateurism rules. What may have started out with good intentions — to rein in payments, limit transferring, and maintain some semblance of fairness and competitive balance — are quickly going out the window.

As a result, the NCAA has to reshape what it is, and what its role will be, long term.

Some the bigger changes which could come out of the transformation committee, including:

(1) Transfer Portal Windows

This one is interesting, because it would actually limit student-athletes. The NCAA could attempt to install transfer windows, but if it’s sued about it, there’s legal precedence that suggests it would lose the case.

Right now, players must enter the portal by May 1 if they want to be eligible for the following season. However, there are caveats. If a player is cut, or if there is a coaching change after the May 1 deadline, then the player can still transfer freely.

The May 1 deadline is only to enter the portal. Players can technically commit to a school up until enrollment closes for the fall semester.

Coaches in Naples discussed a window that opens on March 15 and closes on May 1.

(2) Unlimited Transfers

Currently, players can transfer one time without penalty (the one-time transfer rule, which came into existence last year). The transformation committee has suggested that moving forward, players may be allowed to transfer an unlimited number of times without penalty.

However, right now players can technically transfer twice without penalty, in certain cases. First, they can use the one-time transfer rule. Then, if they earn an undergrad degree, they can transfer as a graduate transfer and also not have to sit out. 

(3) Unlimited Scholarships

Here’s the big one.

Right now college hockey programs are capped at awarding 18 full scholarships. Most programs spend to the max, but some do not. How many programs would spend over the max if they were allowed to?

We don’t know the answer.

Last season schools were allowed to go over the 18 scholarship limit if they were retaining their own fifth-year players due to COVID. Not every school took advantage of that (several programs flat out said they were not going to go over 18 scholarships, including some bigger schools like North Dakota). That’s interesting, because while scholarships could be unlimited in the future, athletic departments will still have budgets and they’ll have to decide if they’re willing to expand upon their current funding.

As one coach put it to me yesterday, “I’m not sure if this is going to be the rich getting richer, but I think it’s going to be the poor getting poorer.”

(4) Unlimited Staff

College hockey programs are currently limited to one head coach and two assistant coaches (full-time). That will almost surely change and coaching staffs could be uncapped.

This change could have the biggest effect.

The programs that can afford to add more staff could be at a huge advantage when it comes to recruiting. Typically on a weekend when a team plays, no more than one assistant is on the road recruiting and two remain with the team to run the day-to-day operations and be on the bench for games.

What if all of a sudden, programs that could afford it, could send out two or three recruiters on a weekend?

They’ll be able to cover much more ground.

It could essentially result in schools creating scouting departments, like what exists at the pro and junior level. Programs that could afford it could have three coaches that are with the team at all times, and a staff of three scouts/recruiters who are in charge of recruiting new players.

Scholarships play a huge role in attracting players, but it’s not the only thing. Relationships are still a huge part. That’s why adding more staff, and having the ability to cover more ground with more players in the recruiting process, will have a much bigger effect than a few extra scholarships.

(5) Automatic NCAA Tournament Bids

They might no longer exist.

With all the talk of realignment, this is a huge component. If automatic bids go away, what’s the point of Atlantic Hockey splitting and forming two leagues? There wouldn’t be one.

What would be the point of being in a conference at all? Except for the ability to schedule games?

In the new NCAA constitution, which was ratified in January, the divisions now govern themselves and the transformation committee is trying to tackle a number of issues. The so-called Power-Five conferences (Big 12, Big 10, Pac-12, ACC, and the SEC) want to govern themselves, in many ways.

What concerns coaches … why do the Power-Five schools care if automatic bids are in place? In many cases, they don’t. Even at the hockey level, the only Power-Five conference is the Big 10, and the Big 10 would likely have the opportunity to qualify more teams for the NCAA Tournament if automatic bids went away.

Outside of the Big 10, the other Power-Five schools in college hockey include Boston College (ACC), Notre Dame (ACC), and Arizona State (Pac-12).

Reaction

In reaction to the presentation from the transformation committee, one AD said: “The issue is that all of the big football and big basketball money the Power-Five schools will want to keep for themselves, because for the most part, they generate the dollars in those TV deals. I get that.

“I wonder if, eventually, we’ll have the ‘Power-Five’ championship and then ‘D-I’ and then ‘D-II and D-III’ or something. As much fun as it is for fans — and myself included — to watch a team like Saint Peter’s go on a run, schools with $200 million athletic budgets don’t care about that. I think if they can monopolize the TV money, they will. I’m not sure what that means for the rest of us?”

None of the above even gets into the Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) issue, which is where much of this started. Though that hasn’t hit hockey as much yet, it’s thrown basketball and football into utter chaos. The NCAA was left without a plan, and individual states and schools started implementing rules of their own. The NCAA is trying to put the reins back on, but good luck. Even the court’s decision wasn’t expected to lead to the wild west we’re seeing now, with boosters setting up “collectives” that are paying players out of a pool of money. The NCAA is looking to put a lid on that at least.

It’s even crazier when you combine it with the transfer rules, because players are using the threat of transfer as a bludgeon to get money out of schools, albeit indirectly.

For all those that have demanded “athletes rights” over the years, there were those that tried to warn of the consequences. Maybe this is what people want, but the consequences will continue.

The NCAA is trying to change with the times — because it has no choice. But with the continued losses in the courts, the whole thing might wind up out of its hands eventually. It may literally not be allowed to legislate anything anymore, not in a broad sense. At best it will be left up to the conferences. At most, every school will just do what it wants. Does the whole system of intercollegiate athletics collapse at that point?

Many are figuring the demise of the NCAA, at least in its current form, is on the horizon, if not imminent. Some may think this is what they want, but wait until the non-revenue sports start taking the hit.

For better or for worse, the charm of college sports has long been the loyalty, the teaching aspect, developing young men and women, as both athletes and people. That is all under strain right now, and is seeing a lot of coaches, especially in basketball and football, reassess whether they want to be involved.

Maybe this is just a lot of “get off of my lawn” mentality. Times change, and not necessarily for better or worse. But it’s sure changing. Where this all leads is anyone’s guess, but it’s bound to be much different than it looks now.

Adam Wodon contributed to this report

Source: College Hockey News

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